Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) 97
If "masterpiece" is a word I throw around too much, Pan's Labyrinth is the sort of film that makes me wish I didn't, because that's exactly what it is. Guillermo del Toro's estimably mature adult fantasy is among the extremely few near-flawless cinematic achievements of the decade (or ever, for that matter); I have now seen it a good five or six times and still cannot shake the effect it has on me. It gives me everything I could want from it: it's brutal, it's creepy, but more than anything it's profoundly sad. The scene where Ofelia imagines herself standing in her father's lavish court is one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen, especially given the context in which it happens. Not to mention the spine-chilling Pale Man scene, which must be the single most recognizable sequence from any film in a rrrrreally long time. But seriously, neither words nor a near-perfect score can do justice to how phenomenal this is. If you haven't seen it, go watch it this instant. If you have seen it, go watch it again. You'll be glad, I promise.
Party 7 (Katsuhito Ishii, 2000) 21
More fool me for thinking Casshern was going to be the worst film in this entry. Somehow, against all laws of nature and dictates of good taste, Party 7 manages the trick of not only being worse, but being significantly so. Things like this are to blame for Japanese culture unfairly getting stereotyped as a cracked-out hodgepodge of absurdist nonsense. Party 7 tries so hard to be quirky and unusual and goofy and funny and unique that it just ends up downright painful. I honestly can't think of another word for it. Usually I can adjust my inner tempo to self-conscious weirdness, no matter how forced, but this just gives me nothing whatsoever to grab onto. It's really more like two entirely separate films haphazardly glued together: the first is a dull "I stole money and I'm running away from gangsters" story with lifeless characters and no development; the second is one of the most appallingly weird things I have ever seen onscreen, and no, I do not mean that as a compliment (an aging peeping tom named Captain Banana, whose attire is a spacesuit and frog helmet, tries to get a twentysomething boy to put on a yellow jumpsuit in order to embrace his "inner peep" or some shit). These two continue alongside each other with no particular rhyme, reason, or sense of pacing, until the pointlessly over-the-top denouement inevitably brings them together and accomplishes nothing whatsoever. Surprised? Yeah, I wasn't either. Really, if I hadn't rented the damn thing, I probably would've burned it or something. But they'd fine me for that, and it wouldn't be worth it. I just want this movie out of my life forever. I'll start by finishing this review.
Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) 87
Oh man, this was exceptional. It's sort of my dream to stumble upon a lesser-known older film that is just as great as all of the world-famous classics of its era. Peeping Tom is such a film. It's not too much of a stretch to say that the reason why it's been shuffled under the rug all these years is because it was so ahead of its time. Released twenty, even ten, years later, this might've been seen as a masterpiece. Released in 1960, it was so reviled that it destroyed the career of its director. Why? Because it takes a troubling subject and fleshes it out so skillfully that it essentially removes the audience from its comfort zone whether they like it or not. It's hard to watch this and not get creeped out (the soft-spoken, understated, but chilling lead performance works wonders on this front). But at the same time, it's even harder to watch this and not get completely involved, which is of course the ironic point Powell is trying to make. Just as Mark enjoys watching what he has done, we're gripped with a similar fascination. Peeping Tom implicates its viewers. It makes them accomplices in what is happening onscreen. People back in 1960 did not like this at all, and there's a chance that it still might be seen as distasteful and ugly today. Me? I think it's absolutely brilliant, and likely one of the finest examples of psychological horror I have ever seen.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006) 46
Tom Tykwer directed this. The man who made a name for himself with the kinetic, uber-hip, stylish Run Lola Run made this. Two more dissimilar films you will never see, to say the least. This is a movie that handles its weirdness much like many women handle their perfume: everyone knows a little dab will do ya, but in the end some erroneous idea about excess seems to take over in spite of it all. Some women, I swear to god, use half the bottle because they think each additional squirt will somehow make them that much more aromatic. Instead, it's just nauseating. Perfume, likewise, can't stop at being a dark, quirky serial killer yarn; it's so desperate to assert itself as "something different" that it feels compelled to keep piling the weirdness on until the whole thing just becomes ridiculous. By the time it got to its mass orgy/Christ figure/zombie flesh-eating payoff (oh, if I were only joking), I knew there was no way it was ever going to be able to recover itself. And that's a shame, because it starts off intriguingly, only to have its interest shift away from what happens in the plot in order to focus on the "what next?" element of its rather depraved downward spiral (and may I just say this spiral goes on and on and on -- at 147 minutes, I shit you not, the film's way too long). I'd be lying if I said it's not entertaining; it certainly is. It's ... captivating, to be sure. But it doesn't add up to much. It's just weird for weirdness' sake, and -- aside from Lynch and very few other exceptions -- I'm not really cool with that. Bonus points for casting Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman, though. Always good to see those guys.
Pig Hunt (James Isaac, 2008) 63
The best thing that can be said about Pig Hunt is that it's a movie that understands itself. One does not go into a movie about a group of moronic city kids who go into the woods to hunt a two-ton pig expecting a profound story, or some life-altering revelation, or some shattering new take on modern cinema. No. One goes in expecting a big ol' dumbass horror flick with zero logic, campy dialogue, and tons of cheap humor. And the filmmakers get this. They have no pretensions. "Dumbass horror flick" is all Pig Hunt ever tries to be, and that's all Pig Hunt ever needs to be. And you know what? It's kind of awesome. Somehow the complete and utter absurdity of literally every damn thing in this movie does not bother me at all. It just works. It's incredibly entertaining, highly enjoyable, and actually very funny (sometimes even when it tries to be). Honestly, I could not have asked for more.
Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004) TBD
We tried to watch this, but the rental copy was all scratched up, so it skipped like ten minutes of the movie. This is not the kind of movie where you want to miss anything, much less ten minutes. I liked what I saw, but I'm definitely going to have to see the whole thing in order to pass judgment. Stay tuned! (Author's Note, two and a half years later: Never even tried watching it again. Apparently the film doesn't make sense anyway, so I'm all right with my negligence.)
The Princess and the Warrior (Tom Tykwer, 2000) 45
Okay. I get it now. Tom Tykwer is all about flash and pizazz. This is why Run Lola Run worked so well: it was 100% style. It didn't even try for that whole "substance" thing. On the flipside, this is why Perfume didn't work: it actually tried to tell a story -- a fucking weird one -- and it fell on its face, fucking weirdly. The Princess and the Warrior, despite being Tykwer's immediate follow-up to Lola, unfortunately bears more similarity to the latter film. It ain't just dumb, it's flat-out silly. The story it tries to tell is so contrived and so ham-fisted and so poorly handled that I'm led to wonder what exactly appealed to Tykwer about it in the first place. Scarcely anything clicks here: the movie's way too long, it's frustratingly slow paced, and there's something about it that's just off-putting on a visceral level (not to mention having one of the stupidest endings I've seen in a long while; without giving anything away, it's like Tykwer felt the need to grab his audience by the throat and scream, "D'YA GET IT?! THE SYMBOLISM?! HUH? WELL, DO YA? IT'S A METAPHOR! GET IT?! D'YA SEE THE METAPHOR?!" Yes, Tom. We get it). Not unpredictably, the successful things are the stylistic touches. The film's really well shot. Like, really. It just forgets that these things cease to matter if the story sucks.
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) 100
Still just about the closest to perfection that any film has ever come.
The five minutes of Gus Van Sant's Psycho I saw on TV a few weeks ago: -3
VINCE FUCKING VAUGHN?!
Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009) 41
You just can't predict some things. Of all the boring-as-shit movies out there, I never would've expected a Johnny Depp movie about John Dillinger to be one of them. Simply put: Public Enemies takes a loooong time to go absolutely nowhere. It's unbelievably dull. Mann's technical prowess is impressive enough and Depp's acting is good enough that together they make this a difficult film to hate outright, but damned if I'm not very unimpressed and disappointed. The sad thing is, the film's got a lot going for it. It really does. They just forgot one key element: a script; something that dictates that things happen, and interestingly. Because all of the gripping parts are in the trailer. That's two minutes long. Public Enemies is 140 minutes long. What fills (or doesn't fill, depending) the remaining 138 ain't really worth the $10 you'd have to pay for it.